I’ve set things in motion. I’ve arranged a few pieces of the jigsaw on an uneven surface and now I wait to see what alchemy occurs.
Posts 1-12 in the ‘Navigating Cyril’ Series have unfortunately been deleted, so I’ve taken the opportunity to look again at what’s left of the early material, and have merged the contents into this single extended ‘introductory’ post about the Series, not really a mini-essay, more a rattle-bag of ideas and information.
“He is slowly working out a model of thought – no more than thought, of self – not as something rooted in place and growing steadily over time, but as a shifting set of properties variously supplemented and deleted by […] passage through the world. Landscape and nature are not there simply to be gazed at; no, they press hard upon and into our bodies and minds, complexly affect our moods, our sensibilities. They riddle us in two ways – both perplexing and perforating us.”
p 341 The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
The start was a number of photographs of the choir of Holy Trinity Church, Matlock Bath on Ann Andrews’ wonderful website The Andrews Pages (click HERE) which primarily focuses on the history of the Matlocks area of Derbyshire.
The photographs from the Christine Leila Hill collection can be found HERE, however it’s one of the participants in the procession on Ash Wednesday 6th March 1935 that struck me, as they’re the spitting-image of my father, but it couldn’t have been dad, as he wasn’t yet born. It was at that moment that I realised, for the first time in my life, I was looking at a picture of my paternal grandfather Cyril Edmonds who died during the Second World War at the age of 22 years.
The face of the young chorister haunted me, I wanted to know more, to take a journey or navigate around a lost grandfather.
I’m sharing the story of ‘Navigating Cyril’ not because of any sense of vanity. I’m not thinking that my family history is any more worthy of study than anyone else’s, but rather I’m using the experience to illustrate the idea that our families are crucibles of lore and legend, and that every family – your family / my family – holds within it the roots of our own personality and passions. The posts are a journey of exploration and a means of making connections between an emotional landscape of memories and the tangible landscape around us. I hope they will help me to understand a little more about how history and place, imagination and location, provide the sub-conscious drivers that control our responses to, or emotional reactions to, people and place.
Am I trying to ‘find’ Cyril – or find myself?
Is it an exercise in local history or simply taking aesthetic pleasure in old postcards and photographs from a world that’s long since lost?
Perhaps it’s both, or neither?
A Navigating Project:
- makes connections without obsessively pursuing a dominant narrative
- is neither history nor fiction
- involves research and imagination
- is composed of a ‘drift’ across numerous stories and gives permission for freedom-from-constraint and leaps in the dark in search of a deeper sense of place
- is about a hidden landscape of atmospheres, histories, actions and characters which charge a space
- encourages a broad unfolding of a story over time
- provide freedom, and permission, for my chaotic, ill-formed thinking to take off in unexpected directions, loosening constraints, losing sight of myself and that habit of ‘control-freakery’ for a while, and simply to enjoy the journey
- is likely to involve sudden U-turns and changes of tempo and tone
It is our sense of place, our position in both the social, cultural and topographical sense, which gives us our identity.
Portland House – on the left of this postcard – is a substantial property on the Derby Road adjacent to Holy Trinity Church. It came up for sale in 1931 when the house, mews garages (former stables) and three building plots were advertised. (Further information about the history of the house can be found HERE).
The new owner F. A. Roberts of New Street Works Matlock quickly sold it on to Cyril Edmonds (Snr.) a former post office employee and retired civil servant. Mr. Edmonds ran both the shop across the road – the Clifton Cabin – and the Cumberland Cavern, the second owner of the Cumberland Cavern to have lived at Portland House.
- Cyril Rowland Edmonds was born in December 1921, second son of Cyril (1883-1954) & Jessie May Edmonds née Rowland (1887-1979), of Portland House, Matlock Bath.
- In his late teens Cyril Rowland Edmonds had a relationship with local girl Mary Allen daughter of a property developer, printer and local politician John Allen (1887-1966). In July 1938 a child was born. Cyril would have been 16 years old and Mary 17 years old.
- The birth certificate states that Kathleen Mary Allen, a Winder (Cotton Mill) of 3 Richmond Terrace, Brentwood Road Matlock Bath gave birth to a baby boy on the 12th July 1938. The name on the birth certificate is Michael Edmonds Allen, would it be too great a leap of imagination to think that perhaps she included the name ‘Edmonds’ on the birth certificate in an act of defiance against both families who were seemingly eager for the affair to be hushed-up and ‘shame’ expunged from collective local memory?
- Michael, to all intents, was adopted by his maternal grandmother Emma Allen née Swindell (1891-1976) and Mary was soon sent to work in the munitions factories in Derby; whilst Cyril left Matlock Bath to join the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
- Mary was my paternal grandmother.
- Michael my dad.
- On 7th February 1944 Cyril joined HMS Macaw, a Fleet Air Arm transit camp built on the land of Wellbank Farm, Eskmeals, Bootle, Cumberland. It was home to 900 people at its height and gave final training to young pilots who had previously trained in the USA or Canada. Mid-war the numbers of pilots being sent to USA/Canada for initial training had increased to such a degree that a transit camp was needed in the UK to act as a half-way house for pilots going to, and returning from North America. A few miles north of Millom in Cumberland was the Ministry of Supply workers’ camp at Wellbank, originally used by to house construction staff for the Royal Ordnance shell filling establishment at Bootle. The site was requisitioned by the Navy and, from November 1943 became HMS Macaw, often known as Bootle Station.
- On the 9th February (or perhaps March?) 1944 he married Edna Minerva Rainsbury of Ednaston at Brailsford Parish Church.
- In April 1944 he left HMS Macaw and joined 772 Squadron as a Fleet Air Arm pilot at HMS Landrail and Royal Naval Air Station, Machrihanish, Argyllshire for two months.
- In June 1944 aged 22 yrs. he joined 759 Squadron FAA at HMS Heron the RN Air Station, Yeovilton, Somerset.
- 759 Naval Air Squadron [NAS] was first formed on 1st November 1939 at Eastleigh, as a Fighter School and aircraft pool unit. Its original inventory included; 9 Blackburn Skuas, 5 Blackburn Rocs and 4 Gloster Sea Gladiators. On 1st December it absorbed 769 NAS and became the Fleet Fighter School. On 16th September 1940, the Squadron moved to RNAS Yeovilton, and soon began to receive examples of the Grumman Martlet, Fairey Fulmar and Miles Master, with the Sea Hurricane also arriving at Yeovilton in 1941.
- In 1943 it became a part of the Naval Air Fighter School as the advanced flying training component, and by the middle of that year it had a fleet of over 100 aircraft.
- Cyril was promoted to the rank of Sub-Lieutenant (A) on 24th June 1944.
- He died one day later, on 25th June 1944 flying a Seafire on authorised low flying training. He crashed into the ground nr. Pennard Hill, Shepton Mallet.
- His body was returned to Matlock Bath where he was buried at Holy Trinity Church.
- Mary Allen was not allowed to attend his funeral, but watched interment from behind a large beech tree outside the church boundary.
- Later in the war Mary would meet a Alfred Holt, a soldier from Cardiff convalescing at the Royal Hotel, Matlock Bath. They fell in love, married, and Alfred ‘Taffy’ Holt adopted Michael. It would seem that at this time ‘Edmonds’ was dropped from dad’s name and he became simply Michael Holt.
Cyril’s father bought the Royal Cumberland Cavern in the early 1930’s. Imagine the excitement of exploring your very own cave system!
The Cumberland Cavern, original the Cumberland Mine, is an old working most likely developed at the same time as the larger Wapping Mine and is described in detail in the Mine Explorer website, which goes on to say:
“The mine looks to have been worked once and was opened in 1780 as a show cave. Queen Victoria visited the show cave and it then became known as Royal Cumberland Cavern, though it is not usually referred to as this. After the show cave was closed, somewhere in between the late 1960’s and early 1970’s a gang call the “Troggs” occupied the show cave resulting in large amounts of graffiti in some of its chambers.”
The Cumberland Cavern was reached by a steep footpath from Clifton Road, adjacent to Portland House.
The Cumberland was described in a number of nineteenth century guide books, such as Bemroses’ Guide to Matlock, Bakewell, Chatsworth, Haddon Hall, &c’ by John Hicklin pub. Bemrose and Sons, London (c.1869). The full text of Bemroses’ Guide can be accessed through an online archive HERE.
“Messrs. Smedley’s CUMBERLAND CAVERN is the oldest and, geologically considered, the most remarkable of these astonishing excavations; exhibiting singular combinations t and wonderful contrasts, that cannot fail to impress the ordinary observer, and to perplex the conjectures of the studious.
Leaving the locality of these caverns by a gentle and picturesque declivity, which leads down to the high-road through the dale, the path discloses a succession of charming landscapes of surpassing interest and beauty.”
In March 1927 the Cumberland Cavern was sold at public auction, with adjoining land, to Mr. Frank Taylor of Hope Terrace, Matlock Bath for £400.00. This was the first time that one of the show caves had been auctioned. Cyril Edmonds (Snr.), my great grandfather, bought the cavern from Frank Taylor in the early 1930s.
The cavern was advertised for sale once again in May 1950. It remained open in the 1950s
A 1955 Frances Frith Collection photograph, shot in the same location as the postcard above, prompted this memory from one Ike Wilson:
“I remember the cabin at the entrance to the show cave with a stag’s head over the door. I used to cut candles in half for the guide and put them in candle holders for the tourists. Sometimes I would go down to Jacobs Well at the bottom of the cave and wait for the tourists to come down and give them half a candle to get back out with. I used to get a bottle of ice-cream soda and a packet of Smiths Crips as payment.”
From the mid-60’s into the 1970’s it became the favoured party venue (and home?), to a group called the Troggs (nothing to do with 60’s band The Troggs), who ‘tattooed’ the walls with sooty graffiti.
The troglodytic party-goers are vividly described in typically splenetic style by Lester Bangs in “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung”:
“In the sixties, before hippies, there was a youth culture in this area called Troggs, and they did live in the caves round here, the closed down show caves, the old ice house at the New Bath Hotel, and some of the many lead mines in the area. The old lead miners (known as ‘T’Old Man’ in the area, just singular) used to dig down about twenty to thirty feet where the vein was or where they thought it would be and then in about twenty feet or so, then come up and start again. On the hill opposite me there used to be hundreds of old shafts, very dangerous. Most are capped now. These Troggs used to go down there, some lived for weeks in the caves, particularly the old Victorian show caves. Their knowledge of the caves and where they came out was amazing. They used to have a sign to denote themselves, a capital T with a S over it like a snake. Some of the pubs used to have signs, ‘No Troggs’, because they were muddy and smelt! Strange, druggy culture.”
This description of Troggs was found HERE
Since the 1980’s the caverns have only been accessible to cavers entering from above via the Wapping Mine system. I explored the system with caver friends in the 1990’s before I was aware of the family associations; and I have to admit attended a number of revival and very illegal ‘cave raves’ in the Cumberland/Wapping system too!
A huge sans serif sign shouting PETRIFYING WELL.
The petrifying wells weren’t some form of Derbyshire ghost train or niche horror movie, they were something far more elemental, ethereal, and more magical than that.
Petrifying wells were small grottoes where fine sprays or flows of water constantly flowed over all sorts of objects.
The wells were once a major tourist attraction in Matlock Bath where the mineral-rich thermal springs coated anything left in their path with a hard layer of dilute calcium carbonate.
It is an entirely natural phenomenon and due to a process of evaporation and deposition in waters with an unusually high mineral content. The longer the object is left, the thicker the layer, until it looks as though it has been turned to stone. A basic coating can be achieved in about a year.
Local shops or ‘museums’ used to sell petrified objects – particular favourites being birds’ nests complete with eggs, ferns, wigs, shoes, toys, baskets of fruit and animal skulls (and, at one time, human ones!).
Lover’s Walks versus Pleasure Palaces
Cyril’s Matlock Bath had a complex, schizophrenic character and the tensions between Romanticism and Commercialism found expression in a rope that stretched across the River Derwent from the 17thC to the 20thC.
The rope connected two sides of the same coin and brought together the River Derwent’s west bank Commercialism, the arcades, parades, hotels, charabancs and railway daytrippers; and the east bank Romanticism of towering tors, waterside paths and isolated woodlands.
The East Bank of the Derwent was a secluded and private place, accessible only by ferry boat before the 1887 when the Jubilee Bridge was erected. A Lovers Walk, for courting couples seeking escape from the hustle and bustle of the arcades, cafes of the promenade.
An Imagined Childhood…
How did the hills, the valley, the woodlands and the river affect young Cyril? My memories of childhood in Matlock Bath, where my maternal grandparents also lived, are dominated by memories of being outdoors climbing into Upperwood in search of Spring primroses or bluebells; searching out forked branches to pull down the highest laden stems of plump blackberries in Autumn; watching my grandad battle horse flies with fronds of bracken (“I’ve sweet skin!” he’d cry as he ran ahead of the cloud of flies… Picnicking, rope swings, always a walk animated by stories – of huge snowfalls, of cricket on the cliff tops, of the ‘Vimto’ factory and the smell of the gas works.
In many ways I suspect my childhood in the mid-sixties was closer to Cyril’s in the thirties than I realise. Modernity in the form of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ came slowly in the Matlocks, which remained locked in a stable, post-war austerity mode late into the decade. I sense that Cyril, like me, would have been a den-maker, a tree-climber, a ‘get-out-the-house-in-search-of-adventurer’ kind of lad. Did he have a dog? Did he love arming himself with a useful stick? Did he have a favourite vantage point that meandering walks inevitably led to – as I did? Did he gaze down on ‘The Bath’ on busy touristy Summer days from the towering rocks?
Cocooned in the river valley of this contradictory and landlocked ‘seaside town’ what influenced his thinking? The Cumberland Cavern certainly, the penny arcades and Petrifying Wells no doubt, but also, more subtly perhaps what did this dramatic, Romantic landscape say to him?
Cyril’s space, my space; and a place – Matlock Bath – it’s a complex weave, added to, and unpicked by, stories. Stories like this one…
If you walk along the A6 Derby Road from Cyril’s home at Portland House (next to Holy Trinity Church) towards the centre of Matlock Bath and take a look over the wall on the right hand side opposite the road to the Temple Hotel, you’ll see a levelled-out patch of land, which over the years of my knowing it has variously been a tennis court, children’s amusement park, basketball pitch and bowling green.
It’s an inauspicious piece of marginal edgeland but with a fascinating hidden story. In the first decade of the twentieth century it was the site of a cause célèbre and arch political rivalry writ large on a local stage.
It’s a palimpsest of the story of differing visions for reversing the seemingly terminal decline of Matlock Bath as an inland resort at the turn of the twentieth century. But vitally it was also a story fuelled by virulent personal animosity between the two main protagonists Councillors Charles F. White and Herbert Buxton.
The Ferry Grounds, as the marginal lands were called, were essentially waste ground, a midden for the Royal Hotel, across and around which ran tracks leading to the Ferry House and associated buildings, and to the landing stage and ferry across the Derwent.
Although little more than a muddy field, nicknamed the ‘Mud Heap’ the Ferry Grounds were an important element of the local leisure industry, with fairs and travelling shows regularly setting up on the space. It was also the site of the Providence Mine.
The wonderfully named Matlock Bath and Scarthin Nick Urban District Council (let’s call it the UDC) was a highly interventionist local authority which took to itself the task of securing lands throughout Matlock Bath for conversion to pleasure gardens to enhance the status of the town as a resort. For example, in 1897 it leased the Ferry Grounds to secure their access to the ferry to the Lovers’ Walks on the opposite bank of the Derwent, which it also leased in the same year.
The Council purchased the Ferry Grounds in 1908 under the auspices of a 1905 Improvement Act, which provided opportunities for public funds to be allocated to the capital development of the town, the crowning achievement of the Act was to be the building of a monumental pleasure palace, the Kursaal (meaning a “Cure Hall” or spa) the word seems to have been adapted from the German to signify a place of healthy amusement later now known as the (Grand) Pavilion.
Now, all of this sounds a very orderly development of basically under-used land in the name of civic progress, however that’s only half the story.
What actually occurred was a titanic clash between two big fish in a very small pond who both used ancient laws and sought changes in national legislation to secure their vision for the town.
The disagreement arose because, despite the UDC owning the land, the area beneath the Ferry Grounds was subject to far more ancient laws, the Barmote Laws.
In brief, the ancient laws and rights governing lead mining in the Peak District were set down at the Inquisition of Ashbourne in 1288. The Peak District lead mining region was split into various individually-owned ‘liberties’ in addition to the King’s Field of the High Peak and the King’s Field of the Low Peak, administered by the Barmote Courts, the oldest industrial courts in the world. The court consists of a Barmaster and jury. The court applies Barmote laws and settle disputes and although there is little business to conduct nowadays, they still sit at Eyam and Wirksworth. The latter is held in Wirksworth Moot Hall which contains the standard measuring dish presented to lead miners by Henry VIII in 1513.
Importantly for this story, the Barmote Laws stated that anyone could search for lead ore on any land in the King’s Field, with the exception of gardens, orchards, burial grounds and the highway. A miner could also use or divert the nearest water supply to wash his ore and cut any timber he needed for his work.
At the turn of the century local entrepreneur Herbert Buxton, despite selling the Ferry Grounds to the UDC, retained the mining rights to Providence Mine whose entrance sat amidst the Ferry Grounds and slap-bang in the middle of the development of the Kursaal.
The fact that the Ferry Grounds, and indeed much of the town itself, was located within the Kings Field and therefore vulnerable to spurious mining claims was not lost on the councillors who feared that their civic improvements endeavours might be undone by unscrupulous individuals spoiling or *nicking land by claiming ancient mining rights.
(*About ‘nicking’: If a miner found an abandoned mine which he wanted to claim for himself then the Barmaster would place a notice on the mine. At the same time he would make a ‘nick’ on the wooden windlass used for hauling ore up the shaft. This he did on three successive weeks and if no one claimed the mine as his, then the Barmaster would give the title to the claimant. The process was known as ‘nicking’. However a mine could not be ‘nicked’ if it was not working because of bad ventilation or if it was flooded.)
The Chairman of the UDC Councillor Charles F. White determined to remove the possible threat to his grand scheme for the new pavilion by utilising Barmote laws. In 1908 he bluntly instructed the Barmaster to serve notice on Herbert Buxton of forfeiture for Providence Mine, in the Ferry Grounds, and if unworked, give the mine to me.
White was certain that Buxton no longer worked the mine and was equally certain that he, within three weeks, as the mine’s new owner would be able to hand ownership of the mine over to the UDC and have the mine abandoned. Unfortunately he didn’t count on the tenacity of either Buxton or the Barmote Court.
What transpired was a bitter dispute that came close to bankrupting White, a former shoe maker and now ambitious full-time local politician on a small stipend.
He was single-minded in his determination to drive through his plans, taking daily walks to the mine to prove that Buxton was not working it, employing lads to watch the mine for activity and seeking to impose a rateable value on the mine. Ultimately his endeavours paid off and in June 1909 he became owner of the forfeited Providence Mine.
Buxton’s two son’s in September 1909 put in a counter-claim to Barmote Court intending the ‘nick’ the mine back because it wasn’t being worked by White!
White was desperate to carve out sufficient time to enable the UDC to apply for an Act of Parliament to alter the terms of the 1852 Act so that land used for recreational purposes could be added to the list of places where there was exemption from a miner’s right to mine. (Fascinatingly the Act was passed, amended again in 1927 and re-enacted as late as 1981.) The 1852 Act referred to, began as the Wirksworth Mining Customs and Mineral Courts Bill of 1851 when the ancient Barmote Laws were finally codified and entered onto the national legislature. He employed several local ex-miners to survey/work the mine and provide a show of activity by undertaking stabilising works within the mine. He faced huge criticism for using £10.00 of council funds to undertake some of these works.
After all the money-wasting squabbles the amendment to the 1852 Act became law, so those in favour of development got their way, and a financial and emotionally exhausted UDC could finally begin construction of the Kursaal.
As for this land, well, it reverted to a rubbish tip for a time and was eventually covered by tennis courts in the inter-war years. However, the story goes that the mine wasn’t properly capped when it was covered over, resulting in an accident some years later when a local man and his grass roller fell into a hole as Providence bit back!
For Charles White, he went on to successfully break the dynastic Cavendish family’s Conservative stranglehold on the Western Division of Derbyshire parliamentary seat becoming its first Liberal MP from 1918 to his death in 1923. Herbert Buxton died, aged 79 yrs.in 1912.
(A detailed paper on the dispute, written on behalf of the Peak District Mines Historical Society in ‘Mining History’ Vol. 10 No. 3 Summer 1988 by Lynn Willies, can be accessed HERE.)
In ‘Navigating’ Cyril I’m using an ‘and & and’ approach over an ‘either/or’ approach; many stories are being generated, I’m on a journey of discovery, who knows where it’ll take me next?